June 25, 2011 11:53am EDT
Alberto Blanco (USA) took fourth in this 30th Race Across America, and was honored as RAAM Rookie of the Year, but if RAAM had a “Human Drama Award,” Blanco surely would have won that hands down too. For despite developing a severe case of “Shermer’s Neck” (the complete shutdown of fatigued neck muscles) in Colorado, he continued to hold onto his fourth place position that he’d held since California and keeping pace against seasoned RAAM veterans Gerhard Gulewicz (Austria) and Marko Baloh. Even more amazing is that as recently as one day before the finish he had pushed past both and briefly held second place before being passed by Mark Pattinson (USA) and being re-passed by Baloh.
Blanco arrived at the finish line this morning at 1:00am EDT in a time of 9 days, 9 hours, 10 minutes, averaging 13.28 mph for the total distance. Two factors allowed Blanco to earn such an impressive result despite the condition of his neck; one was the brace cobbled together by his crew, using a back-back frame, a support fashioned from their roof rack’s bicycle wheel holder, and copious amounts of duct tape. The other was his sheer resolve to continue not just riding, but racing, “I can’t even tell you! The guy’s determination is just amazing,” his crew chief, Dr. Robert Hernandez said, “Not only is he a very talented bike rider, but he’s got a heart of gold. He’s very courageous and I’m very happy and proud.”
Blanco was equally as proud of his crew, “The crew, they did it. We’re only six people and everybody was a rookie except one. For them to help me across the country—and in pretty good shape—I had the best crew in the whole race. That’s without a doubt. I rode the bike and they did everything else.”
On hand at the finish was his wife, Veronica Maldonado, a past RAAM winner, having been on a 4-person mixed team back in’97. Asked how it was for her to see the race reports and know that her beloved was suffering so, “Horrible!” she said, “The pictures were so hard to look at. But I kept in touch and Robert his crew chief was assuring me that he was okay and riding well and that meant a lot. I took a redeye flight from California on Friday and as I was boarding the plane he was in second. It was a fight to the end. It was difficult. But he’s here. What a tight race. Unbelievable. I thought it would be a sprint finish or something! It was that close at that time.”
Alberto’s finish was unique. He arrived at the line, still in his brace and wearing a pair of pink Mickey Mouse ears on his helmet. He stopped beneath the banner and was greeted by some of his crew, who proceeded to take off layer upon layer of duct tape that was used to attach his head and helmet to the brace. He was obviously happy to be at the finish, but the fatigue of the ride had obviously taken it’s toll—the man was sunburned, exhausted and judging by his dazed stare, he was obviously ready for some serious R&R. On the awards stage, RAAM Race Director George Thomas said joked about Blanco’s physical appearance, “By that look of joy on your face tells me that you’re coming back next year.” Blanco response? “I’m coming back for sure!”